Why would a young Orthodox like Stephanie commit suicide? I am really troubled about this, but all I can do for now is pray.
It's so hard to say why... but, having the experience of my own father's suicide, I believe it does not matter how old the person is, or of what faith. All of us are tormented by some demons. Some less, some more. And so many people - including teenages and even pre-teens - have severe dysbalances in the chemistry of their brain, which may not manifest to any other person, only to the person in whom these dysbalances develop.
There should be a bigger awareness of problems like depression and anxiety. Kids should be taught at their schools that there exist things like neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, etc. Just preaching to kids is not enough - you will talk to this kid about the love of God etc., but the kid, having this distorted picture of the world because of his/her brain chemistry dysbalances, will enthusiastically respond to your sermon, and yet think about where to get this gun with this bullet, and where to shoot it, in the temple or in the heart. It's a very, very serious problem of the proper education of our communities, of our citizens of all ages and creeds...
I would like to follow up please. Relatively new scientific research has shown that adolescence is an extremely difficult stage in a person's life and lasts longer than anybody had previously thought. First, let me set up the stage with the following wiki article about the pre-frontal cortex:
"The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain, lying in front of the motor and premotor areas.
This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision making and moderating correct social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the pre-frontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially-unacceptable outcomes)."
Next, the common definition of adolescence (again from Wiki): "Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and mental human development that occurs between childhood and adulthood. This transition involves biological (i.e. pubertal), social, and psychological changes."
Recent research has involved imaging the electrical activity of the brain from pre-adolescence, so that the subjects' start of adolescence (onset of puberty) is captured. What the research found out that, with the onset of puberty, the pre-frontal cortex started to develop with the following two major trends in brain activity: the pre-frontal cortex activity lessened appreciably and the centers of the brain dealing with emotions fired up. Interestingly, this pattern typically lasts until mid-twenties for females and until late-twenties for males. The CDC says the following about critical adolescent health behaviors:
" Six Critical Health Behaviors
1. Alcohol & Drug Use. Alcohol is used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs, and is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
2. Injury & Violence (including suicide). Injury and violence is the leading cause of death among youth aged 10-24 years: motor vehicle crashes (30% of all deaths), all other unintentional injuries (15%), homicide (15%), and suicide (12%).
3. Tobacco Use. Each day in the United States, approximately 4,000 adolescents aged 12-17 try their first cigarette. Each year cigarette smoking accounts for approximately 1 of every 5 deaths, or about 438,000 people. Cigarette smoking results in 5.5 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.
4. Nutrition. Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk for many diseases, including the three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. In 2007, only 21.4% of high school students reported eating fruits and vegetables five or more times daily (when fried potatoes and potato chips are excluded) during the past 7 days.
5. Physical Activity. Participation in physical activity declines as children get older. Overall, in 2007, 35% of 9-12 graders had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity.
6. Sexual Risk Behaviors. Each year, there are approximately 19 million new STD infections in the United States, and almost half of them are among youth aged 15 to 24. In 2007, 39% of currently sexually active high school students did not use a condom during last sexual intercourse.
These behaviors usually are established during childhood, persist into adulthood, are inter-related, and are preventable. In addition to causing serious health problems, these behaviors also contribute to the educational and social problems that confront the nation, including failure to complete high school, unemployment, and crime."
So, there you are: adolescents ARE different. We have barely started to consider the ramifications of the latest findings but it is clear that parents do not have much control over their kids during this period (we know this experientially, don't we?) and the kids themselves are handicapped in making sound decisions and avoiding risky behaviors.
I hope that this knowlege will moderate any impulses Stephanie's parents, mentors, and friends may have in blaming themselves. I certainly hope that it will also moderate anyone's thinking about Stephanie herself. Finally, I do think that we all need to moderate our thinking about suicides when it comes to adolescents.